WESTERLY — A physician associated with Westerly Hospital has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being monitored at home, according to a news release issued Friday afternoon by Yale New Haven Health, owner of the facility.
The hospital declined to release the physician's name or to say what kind of medicine the individual practices or the nature or extent of the doctor's contact with patients. A state official said the physician lives in Connecticut.
According to William Hanrahan, Westerly Hospital spokesman, the physician's patients and colleagues have been informed. Hanrahan also declined to comment on how the physician is believed to have contracted the virus.
"If someone shows signs of symptoms, they have been instructed to contact their physician," Hanrahan said by email.
Asked whether the physician's patients or colleagues would be tested as a result of being in contact with the physician, Hanrahan replied that tests are conducted based on screening criteria promulgated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are working closely with the Rhode Island Department of Health on the situation and following their guidelines," Hanrahan said.
The Rhode Island Department of Health referred most questions to the Connecticut Department of Health, saying the Connecticut department, which could not be reached for comment, is leading contact tracing in the case because the physician lives there.
"Westerly Hospital is a top facility in Rhode Island when it comes to preparedness and infection control. This announcement is in no way a reflection on the hospital," said Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Jackie Desmond, a registered nurse and president of Local 5075, the union that represents the hospital's nurses, said some hospital staff members were being tested following the physician's positive test. Hospital managers have kept nurses and other staff well informed, Desmond said.
Like health care facilities across the country, staff members at Westerly Hospital are conserving personal protective equipment, including face masks, and using them for two days rather than the normal procedure of changing them after each patient encounter. In addition to taking on the risk of being infected, Desmond said many nurses are struggling to find childcare as businesses close to comply with governmental restrictions and social distancing guidelines.
"Our nurses and union members are worried about their patients and they're worried for their families and themselves, but they are stepping up to the plate and coming to work each day to take care of our community," Desmond said.
News of the physician's positive test came one week after local officials announced that a Springbrook Elementary School second-grader and a Westerly preschooler who attends a school in Mystic were confirmed as the region's first two cases of the COVID-19 virus. On Friday Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey announced that the two children had recovered and that their families remained in a 14-day quarantine.
Westerly Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Green, in a news release, said, "While a case of this nature is certainly inevitable given the community spread of the virus, Westerly Hospital is well prepared and has taken every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all patients, staff and employees. As part of Yale New Haven Health, Westerly Hospital also has access to some of the nation's leading specialists in the field of infectious diseases and prevention."
Green asked that the physician's privacy be respected.